Monday, April 5, 2010

Review: Mischief by Douglas Clegg

Douglas Clegg is another writer who (like Jack Ketchum) has managed to go under my radar over the past couple of years. Recently, however, his presence seems to be felt everywhere I look: social networking sites, web-presences that deal exclusively in the realm of dark fiction, and of course having his titles pop out with ever-increasing dexterity in bookshops and bargain bins displayed out the front. And (like Ketchum), seems to be one of those writers who is still sculpting a stellar reputation, releasing a novel every year with timely precision and garnering high words of praise from the giants in the industry.  

Apparently Mischief is the first of a trilogy of books in the Harrow Academy series, which also features a previous e-serial prequel Nightmare House, and the entire thing does read like something you must have insider knowledge of. I must admit my ignorance in regard to this was frustrating; there were too many mysteries that lacked revelation – too many character reactions that were perplexing. However, it must be said there are other fans of Clegg’s work who will know the Harrow legacy involved in Mischief … and it seems to be written with these readers in mind.

Jim Hook is on a scholarship at Harrow, a prestigious prep school located in the Hudson Valley of New York. Years before his older brother Stephen and father perished in a car accident, and the wounds are still raw. Not only was Stephen the epitome of a perfect brother everybody looked up to, he was also a catalyst for shaping Jim’s philosophy and might have secreted a small supernatural pledge into Jim’s life in the aftermath of his death. We follow Jim as he adapts to the all boys school and are introduced to the people around him: Lark, his beau from a nearby all Girls school; popular Trey Fricker, his best friend. Underlying everything is an almost invisible threat, never clearly articulated. It seems that when his brother Stephen died, Jim unwittingly became the channel that would enable something malign to enter the world, and when Jim gets caught for cheating he is inadvertently thrust into the realm of the Cadaver Society, a secret fraternity who has been pulling the strings at Harrow for a long time. Facing the threat of expulsion and upcoming initiation rights, he becomes haunted by ghosts of the living and dead.

A favorable thing for me was the prose; Cleggs style is simplistic and easily accessible with shades of Laymon. But there are many puzzling aspects here that seem like signposts with no clear direction: plot-strands involving Harrow’s principal that is curtailed before it even begins – the mystery of his father and brothers death with allusions that the official story involved a conspiracy. As a reader, I felt as if I had been handed a pile of jigsaw pieces, none of which seemed to belong to the same portrait. Clegg puts a lot of effort into making the climax creepy – but for me the aim was much too lofty, and ultimately confusion ensues in the aftermath of it all. That’s not to say other readers won’t find things to like, and I can see it appealing to those who like their horror with a smattering of the juvenile.

As a novice to Clegg’s work, I just think I have stumbled upon the wrong book to get the juggernaut rolling. But he has piqued my curiosity, and I have the novels You Come When I Call You and The Halloween Man with reviews to follow. 

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